Galatians Sermon Series # 2

by   |  02.27.19  |  Sermons

Church Potluck Catastrophes

Galatians (1:11-2:10) 2:11-21

Focus: The gospel radically changes all social relationships.

Function: To challenge the congregation to change their social relationships.

Plotline: Let’s talk about eating in some socially uncomfortable places. Yet we believe the nature of the gospel radically changes all our social relationships. So, why do we still let our prejudices stop us from embracing our brothers and sisters in full fellowship? The gospel calls us to live together.

Let’s talk about eating in some socially uncomfortable places.

  • Laura and I eat at restaurants all over town these days. And the old adage is true, “You probably best not think about how the food is prepared.” I once observed a young man who so diligently washed his hands only to pull the disposable gloves out of his back pocket. The story this week about a local restaurant worker who ingested Meth in the food that was in the break room creates concern about what is in your food. And when the server comes to your table with teeth that are obviously Meth affected, the odor in the uniform that portrays a different standard of cleanliness, all these feelings start pressing in.
  • It happens at people’s homes too. I’ve been in homes where a mouse runs across the couch and later across Laura’s foot in the dining room. I’ve been in a home where the smell of urine was entrenched. I’ve been in homes when the cigarette smoke coming out of the kitchen is so thick that you wonder if the food is burning.
  • And it happens at church potlucks. Everyone knows not to eat her pie. And you wonder, being last in line, about the casserole no one will eat.
  • And in today’s text, Paul tells the story of a church potluck. Paul describes this not just as a socially uncomfortable place, but a church potluck that opposed the gospel. It was a bit more sticky than just uneaten pie.

The Nature of the Gospel (1:11-12): We believe the nature of the gospel radically changes all our social relationships. Paul tells four stories of how he did not receive the gospel from human origin but through the revelation of Jesus.

  1. The Gospel radically changed Paul when God revealed the Son to him on the Damascus road. (1:13-17).
  2. The Gospel was confirmed three years after Paul’s conversion (1:18-24).
  3. James, Peter, and John confirmed the Gospel 14 years later in Jerusalem when he defended the truth of the gospel (2:1-10).
  4. The Gospel was confirmed in Paul’s confrontation with Peter and others over their anti-social behavior when they withdrew from table fellowship with gentile believers (2:11-21). The story is about a potluck catastrophe.

Let’s take talk about story # 4 in a bit more detail.

Paul Rebukes Peter at Antioch

2:11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood self-condemned; 12 for until certain people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But after they came, he drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction. 13 And the other Jews joined him in this hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that they were not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

This is the story of the church potluck. Paul describes this not just as a socially uncomfortable place, but a church potluck that opposed the gospel.

So what was Peter reacting to? This is the same Peter who witnessed the blanket coming down from heaven when he slept atop Simon the tanner’s house and subsequently ushered in the first Gentile believers. The story demonstrates the complex nature of social relationships and the difficulty of living a coherent faith. The story demonstrates that even as someone like Peter evolves, he too is inconsistent in his practice. Slippage occurred between his testimony and his behaviors.

Now Peter had no problems at first. He ate with the Gentile Christians at first. But when some from Jerusalem came, he caved. These Jewish Christians were demanding strict obedience to Jewish practices. Jews cannot live like Gentiles. Gentiles cannot continue to live like Gentiles and be good Christians. Gentiles must learn to live like Jews. By accepting these works of the law, these boundary markers, Gentiles indicated that they were identifying with a Jewish way of life and so somehow share more fully in the blessings of the Messiah.

  • And Peter caved to the pressure to conform. If not to their interpretation, he fell prey to their prejudices and segregating ways. In so doing he broke fellowship that was established by God in Jesus. So how is that gospel embodied in everyday social practices? One table. We share together a common life. Paul confronts Peter by saying, “the death and resurrection of Jesus, God has brought into being a new community that embraces Jews and Gentiles together as God’s people.” This is not an implication of the Gospel. It is integral in the gospel itself. You cannot be saved by the gospel and also refuse to sit at table.
  • And its not just about potlucks and meals.
    • Drinking from the one cup. Baptisteries that are segregated. Who our children might date.
  • So we believe the nature of the gospel radically changes all our social relationships.

So, why do we still allow our prejudices to interfere with us embracing our brothers and sisters in full fellowship? Or as Paul states in today’s text, 14 But when I saw that they were not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel [KJV “straight forward”; NIV “acting in line”], I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

  • Let’s Imagine…The Eighth Deadly Sin—walking into a smoke filled room and prejudging the activities that go on there, “as the men take off their leather jackets and open up their Bibles for study.”
  • Prejudice is predetermining, prejudging, anything not based on evidence. Ignorance is the breeding ground for prejudice. It closes one’s mind. It is a habitual generalizing and categorizing to give a sense of control and security.
  • It is hard to understand the harm in prejudice until we have been the object.
  • Each generation develops its own prejudices: hair, punk rock, rap, earrings, etc. Whenever we allow the identity of our community to be fundamentally defined by any sort of national or cultural or religious marker other than the gospel, we are repeating the error of the antagonizes.
  • Richard Hays notes (NIB, pg. 229) — “The dominant symbolic world in relation to which the church in Western culture must define its identity is not longer Jewish culture; rather, it is the culture of public secular rationality. Whenever we find that people have begun to think of themselves as Americans first and Christian second or to meld these identities uncritically together, we are in the presence of a false gospel. Whenever we encounter pressure to allow our identity to be shaped fundamentally by market forces or by allegiance to racial or ethnic identity, we should remember the examples of Paul and Barnabas, who refused to yield even for a moment to the pressure to conform to prevailing expectations about what normal ‘religious’ behavior looks like.”

Today, we do not exclude people based on Jewish laws about diet, holidays, and circumcision.

Yet, we all exclude and marginalize others. I grapple with my own distaste about how some folks live. And out of my own inner wrangling, does it affect my lunch plans?

  • Folks who are able to work and yet beat the system through misusing our welfare system.
  • Folks who have different religious ideologies.
  • Folks who are loud, obnoxious, and push the envelope on what I think is dignified and quiet.
  • Folks who define public morality different from me.
  • Political differences about taxation, gun legislation, immigration, health care, etc.… I do not know about you, but when I sometimes learn about how my fellow believers vote and support some issues, I cringe.
  • It is no longer about mice running across my feet or the smell of cigarette smoke in the kitchen. My stomach is unsettled because of the conversations.

And while much of this list seems to be “outside” the church walls, let there be no doubt, this list describes squabbles inside the church as well. But let me go ahead and add some of those doctrinal battles.

  • Various worship practices.
  • Folk we consider to have full membership and others who seem to have 2nd class citizenship (e.g., divorce).
  • Folks who disagree on how we experience God and God’s Spirit in our lives.
  • How we see God’s activity in our lives (free will vs. pre-determined)
  • And many other 21st century identity markers. We are not painting our church building white because that is the color that other group uses to paint their building.

And when eating dinner at their house, and these subjects come up, do we arch our back for a fight? Do we pack up our toys and go home? How do we react?

So, why do we, saved by the gospel people, still allow our prejudices and biases to stop us from embracing our brothers and sisters in full fellowship? And full-fellowship that often is still defined by who we will and will not eat with. Because, according to Paul, we do not live consistently with the truth of the gospel. Galatians is a grand theological treatise that discusses heady and difficult truths— but with nitty-gritty everyday implications as real as, “Who are you going to eat lunch with?”

And you do not need to be reminded of these issues. You open your arms wide here. Praise God for your example! You include others who outwardly look and act differently but who inwardly look just like you; in-dwelt and formed by the Holy Spirit we all have hearts purified by same blood, redeemed by the same savior, and devoted to the same gospel. You do not need to be reminded. My exhortation to you today is the same one I gave last week—Continue to Hold Fast to the Gospel!